First Thoughts on Year C Epistle Passages from the Lectionary

Pentecost 22

William Loader

Pentecost 22: 20 October  2 Timothy 3:14 - 4:5

In times of danger it is important to have secure foundations. This letter has in view threats from people propounding a form of Christianity which threatens the faith. Last week our passage stopped just short of 2:16-17 which mentions two such people. We hear little of the substance of what they are teaching beyond the idea that they are saying that the resurrection has already happened. The letter mainly warns without engaging in argument, such as we find in the undisputed letters of Paul. 3:1-9 accuses them of immorality and irresponsibility. Our passage refers to people going off after myths and not enduring sound teaching. We are left guessing what the real problem was.

The solution however is to call Timothy, and through him, all in positions of leadership and responsibility back to basics. Don't get carried away with the new trends, but stay with what you learned (3:14). 3:15 draws attention to the scriptures. These will be what we call the Old Testament and if Timothy became a Christian as an adult, then the author is appealing to both his Christian and his Jewish past. 3:16 (surely a famous combination of numbers!) presents us with the much quoted statement about biblical inspiration, which is mostly misused as a slogan about the whole Bible. There were legends of inspiration about the simultaneous translation of the Old Testament, or at least the Torah, from Hebrew into Greek, by the 70 working concurrently and miraculously agreeing. Thus the Septuagint ("70") was an inspired translation, "all" of it. The story is told in the Letter of Aristeas. The Septuagint was the Bible of the early church.

Within a Christian context the scriptures would be read in the light of the message of Jesus interpreted by the apostles, in whatever form that was known. This was also the fruit of the Spirit. Engaging the scriptures and the Christian witness was a sure way of keeping in touch with the foundations of faith. We are engaged still in that process. The writer has preachers and pastors in mind in particular. He also has in mind the dangers. Hence the emphasis on sound teaching and on correction and rebuke (3:16-17; 4:2).

We might take such exhortations across two thousand years into our own situations which are very different and yet in which such dangers are not unknown. People love the Da Vinci code, New Age myths and recycled Hinduism in western garb. We have our people with "itching ears" and "teachers to suit our own interests" (4:3). We may, however, find such consumerism much closer to home. The insistence on holding to a resurrection hope, strange as it may seem, had something to do with an embodied hope, and a refusal to reduce faith and hope to individual immortality. Then as now it was more appealing to learn how to be special and satisfied than to be swept into the turbulence of yearning for the reign of justice and peace.

When we think canonically the dichotomy takes us back to Jesus' own struggles. How could what began as good news for the broken hearted who cried out for change become the sedative for the comfortable? How could the way of the cross become a pathway for success and a sanction for protecting our own interests, personal or national?

The writer does not really engage the threat except by warnings. It is a tired Paul who speaks, if it is Paul at all, which seems unlikely. The one writing in his name knows however to appeal to tradition and to turn people back to the foundations. These concerns would produce gospels and eventually an inspired New Testament, not to be a set of rules, but to be a source of returning to the centre with a diversity that calls for critical engagement. From that centre the writer calls us to do the work of an evangelist (proclaiming the good news) and to fulfill our ministry, and not to be distracted by the religious market place which advertises to people they can have all they want - now.

Gospel: Pentecost 22: 20 October Luke 18:1-8

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